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November 16, 2000

Making space for the spirit in a medical facility

  • Design of a new Kirkland cancer treatment center combines natural elements with technology.
    Mahlum Architects

    In state-of-the-art medical facilities, the spirit and well-being of the patient counts more than ever.

    treatment room
    Photo courtesy Mahlum Architects
    A treatment room at Evergreen Healthcare.

    The new $3.5 million addition to the radiation oncology center at Evergreen Healthcare provides a sculptural and light-filled solution to a cancer treatment area that is often relegated to windowless basements.

    “Evergreen wanted a state-of-the-art treatment area that was visually rich and uplifting, not only for patients but for staff,” said Robert Lober, project designer with Mah-lum Architects.

    The first phase of a larger master plan, the radiation center houses two radiation therapy vaults, a CT simulation room, treatment planning space and patient changing and waiting space. There are six dressing rooms, a family member waiting room and a room for gowned patients waiting for treatment.

    Before developing the design, Lober and fellow designer Benjamin Doty talked to staff and patients, and they visited several cancer treatment facilities throughout the country. They found that most facilities were tucked away in basements or under garages because the linear accelerators that emit the powerful radiation require the protective 8-foot thick walls and ceilings. Waiting rooms and work areas were housed in equally dismal surroundings, with no access to natural light.

    For Evergreen, Lober opted to keep the treatment rooms above ground and to use their sheer bulk — the building contains about 4,500 tons of concrete — as large sculptural elements. The exterior angled walls of the treatment rooms are sheathed in copper that will fade to green over time. Rainwater from the roof and the sloped 24-foot-high walls is collected in a trough at the base of the wall and directed to a river rock well in the Japanese-style garden.

    The interior space of the treatment rooms also differs dramatically from similar facilities. There are domed ceilings over the patient tables. Rather than looking up at a flat acoustical tile ceiling, a patient undergoing radiation gazes at twinkling stars in a morning sky. Seattle artist Robert Williamson, a principal at Eclectic Surfaces, painted the sky; the starfield comes from fiber optic lighting embedded in the dome. The maple-paneled walls and carpeted floor add visual warmth to what is often a sterile environment.

    The rest of the building is flooded with natural light from tall, clerestory windows in the 30-foot-tall gallery entry. The ceiling panels are canted to bounce light into the area and to reduce glare on computer equipment below.

    Commissioned art work adds a note of serenity. Cast glass windows on the west wall by artist Gerry Newcomb incorporate fossil-like shapes that flow into a terrazzo channel fountain designed by Kevin Spitzer, the principal at DK Studios. A large glass vase occupies a niche in the reception area, and there are oil paintings on the walls in the waiting rooms.

    The cast glass window and fountain screen the changing room and waiting areas from the public corridor. “Water running through the channel fountain provides soothing sounds and reinforces the idea of healing and life,” Lober said.

    The water theme is repeated outside in the Japanese garden, where a small waterfall flows into a pool.

    “People undergoing radiation treatment for cancer are experiencing an emotionally difficult time, and it is important that they be given an environment that is comforting and calmly reflective of nature,” Lober said. “It’s also more uplifting for staff.”

    What’s been the reaction of patients?

    “Patients treated in the new facility continuously comment on how uplifting the environment is, that they don’t feel they are coming for cancer treatments,” said Sue Smiley, manager of radiation oncology services at Evergreen Healthcare.

    “The natural light coming in from all angles, the sound of interior water, the soothing furnishings and the serenity of the Japanese garden create a very positive experience for the patient and families. I even had one patient tell me that if everyone going through treatment could see this place, they would want to have their treatments here,” Smiley added.

    Strand Hunt Construction, of Kirkland, was the builder.

    Evergreen Healthcare is a community-based organization serving more than 360,000 people throughout north King and south Snohomish counties. Evergreen Healthcare provides care through a variety of programs and services that are among the most comprehensive in the region.

    Nearly 700 physicians are part of the Evergreen medical staff, representing more than 50 specialties. Evergreen Hospital Medical Center provides services in all major specialties including cardiac, oncology and surgical care.

    Mahlum Architects specializes in the planning and design of educational and healthcare, advanced technology, hospitality, performing arts and commercial facilities.

    Bill Strong is a senior associate with Mahlum Architects and a Fellow with the Society for Marketing Professional Services.

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